Delta's free WiFi, Sync platform point to more connected future

Breana Noble, The Detroit News on

Published in Entertainment News

DETROIT and LAS VEGAS — Delta Air Lines Inc. on Wednesday launched free WiFi on 75% of its domestic mainline aircraft, an early step toward its overhaul of in-flight entertainment in favor of personalization and free services like Paramount+ streaming, New York Times puzzles and more.

Expectations around the transportation experience are changing. Delta's announcement of this new Delta Sync platform launching this spring came last month during the CES consumer electronics convention in Las Vegas as automakers on the show floor were displaying in-vehicle entertainment options. Among them: BMW's windshield-projected virtual world to Chrysler's music synthesizer to Peugeot's pop-up panoramic screen, offering personalized features for automated driving scenarios and while occupants are waiting for an electric vehicle to charge.

Now, something akin to new vehicles' smart cockpits is coming to airplane seats. Delta CEO Ed Bastian calls this connectivity the industry's "next frontier." Like in the auto industry, these entertainment and convenience options can be a differentiator, but they're also valuable in making travel more enjoyable and building consumer loyalty — though Delta declined to specify how this could impact future pricing.

"This is something that is scalable," Dwight James, senior vice president of customer engagement and loyalty for the Atlanta-based airline, told The Detroit News. "This is something that will continue to evolve. We want to build more of a personal relationship."

Delta invested $1 billion over the past several years to bring free WiFi to customers. Flyers still are welcome to bring their phones, laptops, tablets and other devices that they'll be able to connect to the free WiFi service in partnership with T-Mobile US Inc. at no additional cost while in the air, regardless of wireless carrier.

The 700 flights Delta has equipped with Viasat Inc. connectivity will have the service available by the end of the year. Full availability on international and regional aircraft is expected by the end of 2024.


Travelers will need to create a free SkyMiles account to connect to the WiFi and eventually to access the exclusive offerings on Delta Sync available through the 150,000 touchscreens already on Delta flights.

Customers will be greeted personally and be able to stream movies like "Top Gun: Maverick" or TV shows like "So Help Me Todd" on Paramount+, play Wordle or solve crosswords with the New York Times' games, explore destinations on Atlas Obscura or make a restaurant reservation with Resy. Delta also is exploring other opportunities in sports, retail and gaming, James said.

Flyers will be able to leverage Delta's existing partnerships that allow them to earn miles as well for ordering a coffee with Starbucks Corp. or having groceries delivered at home with Instacart Inc. Other partners include American Express Co. and ride-hailing company Lyft Inc.

Delta Sync also supports the facial matching service the airline already offers in Detroit and Atlanta to ease baggage check, security and boarding without an ID or boarding pass.


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